It was striking last week, as Rishi Sunak was announcing his support package for charities, when he uttered the words, “we all depend on each other.”
What is striking about this is that it flies in the face of the conservatism the Left often try to paint us as. Conservatives are often labelled uncaring and individualistic. A group of people who believe everyone should be able to lift themselves up by their bootstraps with the most minimal of state intervention and support.
However if British Conservatism is to emerge strong from the coronavirus crisis enveloping the world we must remember our foundations as a party. Disraeli’s idea of One Nation Conservatism should be the type of conservatism which binds us as a party. This is a term that has been distorted over many years to mean a conservative who is socially liberal and economically conservative. The problem with this definition is that it is meaningless. It does not have a goal, a guiding principle or a policy position.
The two strands are also incoherent, thereby leading to a vacuous type of politics where everything is acceptable or unacceptable depending on which way the wind is blowing. No wonder the ever decisive Mrs Thatcher described them as ‘wets’.
Disraeli however, was very clear in what he meant. Never having actually used the precise term in the book, Sybil, in which it was coined, he described the problem of, “two nations… who are as ignorant of each other’s habits, thoughts and feelings as if they were inhabitants of different planets.” Disraeli was describing the rich and the poor in industrial England but the same premise can be extended to any number of social divides. These social divides can be crippling to a nation and we have seen the success of conservatism, throughout the decades of our existence as a party, when we recognise this as a problem and work towards a solution.
I believe conservatism differs fundamentally from socialism in that we believe the way to a robust, self-sustaining society is through a belief in individual endeavour. The state has an important role to play in provisioning those areas the individual cannot such defence thereby creating an environment in which the individual can flourish.
It is a mischaracterisation by those on the Left that the measures taken by the Government during this crisis prove their policy positions as correct. Socialism advocates for such measures as the status quo. In fact what we are seeing now is twofold: A wholesale success of prudent government intervention in an emergency – keeping the lights on with our NHS and as many businesses afloat as possible and a wholesale failure of socialist policies which, if carried on longer term, would lead to this country becoming permanently poorer.
In order to emerge without irreparable scarred tissue we would be prudent to return to the guiding principle of One Nation Conservatism. It allows flexibility in approach, increasing or decreasing the size and scope of the state in a compassionate way such that it can provide a ladder up which anyone can climb because it advocates for equality of opportunity and not equality of outcome.
Crucial to this is a revaluation of the spectrum of state support and the contract between the government and its people. The state obviously needs to provide for defence, security and justice but with the resurgence of community, volunteers and churches there is now a much greater sector of our society stepping up. This is being carefully managed by the Chancellor’s package last week but it needs to be supported to continue to exist post crisis for the benefit of us all.
Success post the immediate stemming of the tide from this crisis will depend on returning to that principle underwriting true conservatism and what it means.
At the moment the nation is united against a common foe, we must maintain that unity when our foe is vanquished, we must reflect and move forward. Most of all, we must remember we all depend on our families, friends and each other.
Ed McGuinness, Head of Events at Conservative Progress